Sir, Yes Sir! Surviving the Drill-Sergeant Boss

5 min read

Leadership skills are somewhat subjective. Some bosses prefer to rule with an iron fist – metaphorically that is – while others want to be every employee's best friend. Certain bosses run a tight ship by insisting on high standards for all employees, but they hold themselves to the same fair requirements, and are considerate managers. We can all likely agree that when you feel like a private in basic training when you go to work, that “leadership” has begun to shift into an abuse of power. When managers are rule-enforcers to a T but think that they are exempt from all regulations, it’s not only unethical, but it’s a huge de-motivator for employees.  Timothy G. Wiedman, Associate Professor of Management & Human Resources at Nebraska's Doane College, tells us how he learned the hard way how not to act as a boss: Early in my career, I was an assistant manager at a chain restaurant working under a new general manager who had been a drill sergeant in the Marines during Vietnam. Our previous boss had been very laid-back, and some company rules and regulations were not strictly enforced under his regime. So when "Jim" arrived, it was a bit like Clint Eastwood taking over the recon platoon in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge.” Jim was a stickler for enforcing his rules to the letter. Under those circumstances, the crew initially made a lot of “mistakes.” Unfortunately for us, Jim's  solution to almost any disciplinary situation was termination. We lived under a reign of terror for months as turnover climbed toward 200 percent. Terminations began to occur regularly, so we were often short-staffed. If we lost a crew member unexpectedly, Jim would call on his wife  to fill in until he hired a replacement. Since corporate policy did not allow relatives of salaried managers to work in the same unit, Jim could not put his wife on the payroll. So, she worked off the clock – an obvious violation of federal and state labor laws! Jim was not only an extreme rule enforcer as a boss, but he was also extremely possessive. One day  a new employee, who probably didn’t realize who she was, was fired for staring at Jim's wife! When Jim announced that he was taking a job at another company, I nearly jumped for joy. While I only worked for him for 10 months, I learned a lot about bad management during his tenure. I think that those lessons helped me become a much better boss.

Lessons Learned from a Drill-Sergeant Boss

Like Wiedman, New York Times best-selling author Michael Hyatt  has been able to see the silver lining in otherwise unfortunate circumstances. He shares a few lessons he learned along the way from sub-par (or downright evil) bosses:

  • Don’t attack people personally. Instead, focus on their performance.
  • Be quick to forgive and give the benefit of the doubt.
  • Follow through on your commitments, even when it is inconvenient or expensive.
  • Respect other people’s time, especially those under you.
  • Everyone on the team matters. No one deserves to be treated poorly.

... And from a Master

Sir Alex Ferguson, retired manager of Manchester United, inspired Xactly CEO Chris Cabrera with his ability to motivate players. One pearl of wisdom that Sgt. Jim could've used: Build relationships. Get to know your team members as individuals. Ferguson was never afraid to attend a wedding or hold one-on-one meetings, as he understood the importance of building personal relationships to support professional ones. This helps managers understand what motivates individual players, and what objectives you need to set to get the best from them.

Images by Viorel Sima/ and Dan Kosmayer/